“The Newsroom”: 1×1: Sorkin Unleashed


We’re going to skip all the humdrum hullaballoo about what happened in the first episode of The Newsroom, because if you are reading this you either:

A) watched it, and get a gold star
- or -
B) should watch it right this minute.

In The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin created an argument for passionate and idealistically executed democracy by showing us what could happen if exactly that type of people were at the wheel in Washington. We watched it and we (most Democrats and some Republicans who don’t like to talk about it) thought that we could just maybe live with the bald unfairness and tragedy in  the world if we knew that at least our leaders were a head smarter than us and five times as compassionate. In some people – I’m just saying, I’m conjecturing, I don’t know who this could be talking about, no – it awakened a keen frustration that the leader of the time of the show’s heyday (Bush II’s two terms) was a vapid powerhunter who believed himself ordained by God for his position. It made someone – again, don’t know who – wish just a little bit of the fiction could be real.

In The Newsroom (Sorkin’s third show titled after a workspace in which idealistic and patriotic environs spend amounts of energy only possible when shot over many days fussing and blustering about the crap state of the world and how to make it better, even through mediocre sketch comedy), Aaron Sorkin is creating an argument for passionate and idealistically executed news programming by showing us what could happen if only we would burst the scaredy-cat bubble that insulates news producers from doing their jobs.

But unlike other shows, this one doesn’t have to create much. This one is built on the back of two-year-old news: it’s a sort of retrospective on American media, and how we got here – what kind of day it’s been – through the lens of a group of typically Sorkinesque doe-eyed optimists (and some others who only look like pessimists at first) who come together to do what we have already done but better.

Is Aaron Sorkin trying to teach the world a lesson? He would very likely say no. He would probably insist on it. But it’s hard not to take a lesson from a show that looks back at the BP oil spill of 2010 and gives us the kind of news coverage that didn’t exist back then and very likely wouldn’t today, in the world where even global warning is considered a fact on only one side of a debate. It’s hard not to take a lesson when we see an impassioned tirade on the importance of doing it better.

It helps to have all the facts at your fingertips, of course; it helps to know about Halliburton and flawed cement and overworked/undertrained regulators. Lord knows if every assignment editor and senior producer had a time machine they’d have a handily sensational hour of television too. Yet it sure is nice to see what news ought to be done by people who ought to be doing it, at a high level of efficiency and influence. I worked as a daily news reporter for three years, and while covering nothing close to as sexy a story as the BP oil spill, and not having had contacts (even if I rolled them all together with duct tape) to get the kind of scoops this fictional Senior Producer did, can tell you that that kind of high-energy, five-phone-calls-a-minute, working-hard-and-hoping-it-all-comes-together-ness of it all is usually the indication of the end of a good, hard day, and in reporting those are the only days that get you anywhere good.

So Will McAvoy is a big shot who has something to prove. His ragtag staff will be mixed with his old-timers and those who are either scared-and-just-promoted or fresh off the resume line. They have to recreate the image of a man who has just been labeled an Anti-American by the raging and vicious opinion press, and rework a show from milquetoast and popular to controversal and who=knows.

It’s clear we’ve got ourselves a handful of veteran reporters and wet-behind-the-ears underdogs, who are all going to screw up and triumph in equal measure. They are going to fall into nerdy and wonky love, as is only possible on a Sorkin show. Most of them will be too smart by half. The nerds will do better than the glamorous ones. The gruff guy will get warmer. Goals will be reached, goalposts reset. And all while speaking at a rate that is just knocking on the edge of intelligible.

It’s a typical Sorkin show, without commercial breaks or the limits of censored speech, or all the artifices that come with prime time. Yes, Sorkin characters are faster talking and smarter and funnier than most other people on earth, but why would you want to watch dumber, duller, less interesting people anyway? You have fun with that; I’ll be in The Newsroom.


  • sirpopey

    Brilliant review! Too many have been lambasting the show for being too idealistic when it’s rather clear that the show is in some sort of hyper idealistic retrospective universe. I mean there is a benevolent tv station owner who’s more intent on providing good news than ratings, how clear in his assertion that this show isn’t the norm does Sorkin have to be? I for one cannot wait for episode two.

  • http://twitter.com/AYearInDublin Josephine

    Great review! I cannot wait for episode two either. Sure, it’s a pretty idealistic show but I don’t really see why that would be a bad thing. I mean, fiction has to be believable, not realistic, or else it wouldn’t be fiction. And if the newsroom inspires at least some people to try and do better, then why not? Like you said, who would want to watch dumber, duller, less interesting people anyway?

  • Carbon658

    I haven’t exactly seen a LOT of Sorkin’s stuff, but from what I have seen I sometimes feel as if his characters are like spokespeople for values rather than living, breathing characters. And I’m not saying I want to see dumber, duller, less interesting people, just more – I don’t know – behaviorally realistic ones. I do enjoy, even prefer, fantastical (or idealistic) situations and settings; however, I still like characters to behave and talk as they would in real life. That’s what makes things ring emotionally true even in a story where there are hobbits carrying magic rings, or, in this case, a world where the news is “how it should be.” Don’t get me wrong – Sorkin is a really smart writer and has a lot of ideas – but I feel like he spends too much time telling the audience those ideas instead of letting them play out naturally.

  • http://twitter.com/Leah617 Leah Cornish

    Also of note: Sam Waterston is a BOSS. I wanted to cheer every time he opened his mouth. (p.s. Did you hear the rumour that Sorkin is writing in a song to an episode after he found out that Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher Jr sing?)